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We all know that reading to our kids promotes their brain development, vocabulary and literacy skills, but to this point it wasn’t clear why reading aloud is so crucial. Now, new research may have an explanation: it’s all about the text.
Simply put, story time introduces kids to a lot more unique words than they’re exposed to in everyday conversations with Mom—which of course means a better opportunity for children to develop larger vocabularies.
Researchers from the University of California Riverside pit the transcribed everyday conversations between parents and their kids against text from a hundred popularly recommended children’s picture books to see which one yielded the highest percentage of unique words. The clear winner? Books.
“When we compared our text of transcribed books to an equally-sized amount of speech-to-kids, we found about 70 percent more unique words in the books than in the speech,” says Jessica Montag, PhD, assistant research psychologist and author of the study. However, she warns that the figure reflects the sample size and the various methodological choices in the study, so the actual percentage may be more or less. Still, it’s easy to understand that books have the advantage. The findings are published in the journal Psychological Science.
And it’s not just about the words learned. In addition to exposure to more unique vocabulary, kids stand to benefit from the different topics covered in books and the variety of sentence structures used. “Books allow you to talk about more different things in more different contexts… It’s a lot of really fun play with stories and with language,” says Dr. Montag. Fun and play along with lots of words, sentence structures and context—a great way to learn!
Undoubtedly you already know it’s important to read aloud to children. When you read out loud to youngsters, their vocabulary grows, their comprehension improves, and little ones learn to listen. If you continue to read out loud as your baby passes the 3, 6, 9, and 12-month mark, he will begin to respond to you with coos and giggles—his way of communicating. But that’s not the only reason to read often and start early.
5 Hidden Benefits of Reading Out Loud
Reading out loud has hidden emotional benefits for you and your sweetie. For example:
It promotes parent-child bonding. Reading to your child while she rests in your arms or sits on your lap helps the two of you create a deep connection. Even if you can manage only a quick poem or a pared-down story once a day, your child will benefit greatly from one-on-one attention.
It’s just plain soothing. Slot in time to read when you feel relaxed, have no interruptions, baby’s belly is full, he’s alert and not cranky. Aim for low-key (not overly stimulating) time together. There’s no need to finish a book in a single session. You can skip around the text or just check out parts that interest your baby. If your newbie loses interest or gets fussy after a few minutes, put the book down and try again later.
It creates teachable moments. Even the youngest babies respond to rhythm, rhyme, and repetition, which is why classic catchy poems (Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary or Jack and Jill) are so appealing. Try short rhythmic sentences with fun-to-say words or cute animal sounds to capture your baby’s interest.
It lets kids preview exciting, new adventures. When you choose books about everyday experiences—a trip to the farm, fun at the park, or a drive to Grandma’s—you help your child make sense of the world around him.
It makes learning fun and stimulating. Many board books focus on colors, shapes, and letters instead of long, involved stories. Don’t bother to “teach” your baby at this point. Just encourage her to take in all the wonderful designs and pictures. There’s plenty of time for more challenging reading material later.
The first year of my son’s life — my first year as a mother — was a blur of wonder, exhaustion and anxiety for me, in nearly equal measures.
Mixed with pure joy was confusion (what is that rash on his face?), frustration (why won’t he stop crying?) and serious sleep deprivation. I read and re-read pages in the same books over and over without remembering anything.
So, my best parenting advice: Trust your instincts. Start reading before the baby comes. And, if you pick up a book after the baby arrives, make sure it’s worth your time.
Here are 12 books for new parents that are actually worth reading.
- 1. “Cribsheet,” by Emily Oster, $17 (usually $28), Amazon
Economist Emily Oster brings the data-driven approach of her incredible pregnancy book, “Expecting Better,” to the challenges of early parenthood. She examines the elusive data on sleep training, breastfeeding and more riddles of parenthood into a readable, succinct guide that answers hard-to-answer questions. This book is long overdue and so welcome for sleepless new parents.
- 2. “The Good Sleeper” by Janet Krone Kennedy, Ph.D., $7 (usually $19), Amazon
In various states of sleep deprivation, I read every baby sleep book. Sears, Ferber, the Baby Whisperers, the No-Cry Sleep Solutions — all were confident they had the solution to get babies to sleep, with very little evidence to support that confidence. Dr. Kennedy’s book is an easy read for sleepy parents, with actual science on its side. It ends at age 1, so for a more thorough, but less readable, guide, try “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.”
- 3. “Your Baby & Child, From Birth to Age Five” by Penelope Leach, $14, Amazon
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This best-seller covers the basics of baby care and feeding. It explains developmental milestones, emotions, potty training, sleep and more. It’s a solid all-around primer for new parents.
- 4. “The Happiest Baby on the Block” by Dr. Harvey Karp, $11 (usually $17), Amazon
Dr. Karp introduced the notion of the “fourth trimester” — the first three months after birth, when babies still appreciate the sounds and feelings of the womb. He suggests the “5 S” technique to calm babies: swaddling, side/stomach position, shushing, swinging and sucking. Many parents swear by his technique (and his Snoo sleeper).
- 5. “The Fifth Trimester” by Lauren Smith Brody, $12 (usually $16), Amazon
If Karp’s book mostly deals with the “fourth trimester” Smith Brody’s handles the next important period, when many women head back to work. It covers childcare, pumping, mastering a new life as a working parent and even, as she puts it, “looking human again.”
- 6. “How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids” by Jancee Dunn, $9 (usually $17), Amazon
Not you! Of course, you could never hate your husband after kids! (But maybe buy this book anyway … )
- 7. “Bringing Up Bébé” by Pamela Druckerman, $15 (usually $18), Amazon
The original book about how foreign parents do it better has inspired so many others. While you may not want to become a Tiger Mom or embrace Selbstandigkeit (although, it’s fun to say!), it can be useful to take a look at what you can learn from other cultures. French children don’t eat chicken nuggets and hot dogs, they eat fish, Camembert and artichoke. Can you replicate this? Not moi. But Druckerman’s book is breezy and enlightening. Maybe you’ll do better.
- 8. “Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year” by Anne Lamott, $10 (usually $17), Amazon
In the first months of motherhood, I searched for fiction that captured my experience. I ended up reading “Room,” which I highly recommend, but with any luck, will not reflect your parenting experience. This memoir of Anne Lamott’s first year as a mother actually does.
- 9. “And Now We Have Everything: On Motherhood Before I Was Ready” by Meaghan O’Connell, $11 (usually $26), Amazon
Even if you think you’re ready for motherhood, it has a way of laughing at you. O’Connell’s frank treatment of an unplanned pregnancy, complicated childbirth and postpartum adjustment will feel familiar to anyone who has given birth (planned or not).
- 10. “How Toddlers Thrive” by Tovah P. Klein, Ph.D., $13 (usually $17), Amazon
Klein, who runs the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development, helps parents shift perspective to see the world through a toddler’s eyes and understand why failing to reach an elevator button can ruin her day. The book provides insight into toddlers’ developing minds and bodies and explains how to set up effective routines and limits without hovering.
- 11. “The Emotional Life of the Toddler” by Alicia F. Lieberman, Ph.D., $12 (usually $17), Amazon
With strong emotions and a limited ability to express them, it’s no wonder toddlers go through “terrible twos” and become “threenagers.” Understanding the world from a toddler’s perspective creates an opportunity for empathy while they scream at you or (kind of adorably) slap you in the face.
- 12. “Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids” by Dr. Laura Markham, $10 (usually $17), Amazon
Markham, the creator of AhaParenting.com, says peaceful parenting comes down to three simple ideas: remaining calm, connecting with your child and coaching, but not controlling. Of course, simple ideas aren’t always simple to pull off. This guide will help. “In the end,” she wrote, “it’s always about love. Love never fails.”
Looking for more parenting products, check out:
- 23 unique baby gifts, according to development experts
- The best gifts for 1-year-olds, according to child development experts
- The 29 best toys for 2-year-olds
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Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin. A new study from Harvard University in the USA reveals that children benefit more from their father reading them bedtime stories. Dads, the research revealed, spark more “imaginative discussions” and are more instrumental to their children’s language development because of the way they read to their kids.
Over the course of a year researching the impact that parents reading had upon their children the study leader, Dr Elisabeth Duursma, found that girls in particular benefited more when read to by a male. “The impact is huge – particularly if dads start reading to kids under the age of two,” explains Duursma. “Reading is seen as a female activity and kids seem to be more tuned in when their dad reads to them – it’s special.”
Unfortunately a recent poll – of 1,000 mums and dads – by the charity Book Trust found that young parents especially are reading less to their children than older generations. Just 19pc of dads under 25 said they enjoyed a bedtime read with their children – whilst 78pc of older fathers said it was their favourite part of the day.
Author and comedian David Walliams has since led an initiative to get more dads reading stories to their children, emphasising to fathers the many benefits that reading for just 20 minutes a day can have upon their kids … and themselves.
Here, in no particular order, are five reasons why all dads should take heed …
Dads take the stories to another level
Shared book reading – mum does a story one night, dad the next – has been found to more than just improve language skills. When mothers read, they often focus on characters’ feelings whilst dads will link the narrative to something more pertinent to the child.
“Dad is more likely to say something like, ‘Oh look, a ladder. Do you remember when I had that ladder in my truck?’” Dr Duursma explains. “That is great for children’s language development because they have to use their brains more. It’s more cognitively challenging.”
Joe Bernstein is a dad who enjoys adding a bit of challenge to his four-year-old daughter’s favourite tales. “When she knows the story well, I will change one of the words every couple of pages so she can interject and correct me, usually laughing,” he explains. “We call it reading silly. ‘Dad, read it silly’.”
Bedtime stories lead to better real life ones
Research published by the British Journal of Educational Psychology into the role of early father involvement and its impact upon children’s educational attainment showed “a positive relationship between the amounts of literacy fathers engage in for their personal use and their children’s reading test.” Dads who are seen to be reading a lot around the home – books, newspapers, Viz etc – send out a positive sign to their children that it’s an enjoyable thing to do.
“I’ve found myself laughing hysterically when reading The Twits aloud to my five-year-old twin boys,” explains Wesley Doyle. “My wife and I read different typeBedtime phenomenon: scientist develops book to send children to sleep in minutes s of story to the boys – though we both do the silly voices.
“I’ve read Ted Hughes’ The Iron Man to them recently and they’re gripped by it. I think it’s because Ted was a poet that the language he uses is so engaging for them.”
Boys especially benefit from Dad’s tall tales
While the Harvard Study highlighted the positive influence dads reading has upon girls, previous research also shows how doing the bedtime read is one of the strongest forms of ‘bonding’ between fathers and sons.
According to a study entitled ‘Why Fathers Matter To Their Children’s Literacy’ by the National Literacy Trust, time-pressured dads reported reading as a major way to develop a unique relationship with their children.
Father of two boys, Will Callaghan, concurs. “My youngest (age four) likes The Tiger Came To Tea, Have You Seen My Cat and George! He enjoys reading more when we’re snuggled in the bed – I use the torch on my phone to add to atmosphere and make it more fun.”
Books build better behaved kids
Studies have also found that the time a father spends reading with his child is one of the most consistent links to that child achieving positive literacy scores throughout his or her schooling.
But it’s not just your child’s language and literacy – along with your own Gruffalo impersonations – that will improve if you read to your kids at night. The Fatherhood Institute found that children whose dads read to them regularly displayed better behaviour and concentration at nursery, and performed better at maths too.
Even in families where childcare has been disrupted by divorce or separation, the influence of dads when it came to encouraging their children to read has been found to be a key factor in the ongoing educational progress of boys especially.
This child is so well behaved she appears to be sitting through a chapter of War and Peace Credit: Alamy
Dads de-stress when reading aloud
Bedtime stories not only provide a relaxing routine for children – they can also calm adults down too.
University of Sussex research shows that reading is the most effective way to overcome stress. Participants experienced relaxed muscle tension and decreased heart rate within six minutes of turning pages.
“My boys particularly love Roald Dahl, and it puts me in a better frame of mind reading those books too,” says Mike Shallcross, father of two. “When you read the chapter of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory where he finds the golden ticket, you see what an amazing writer Dahl was.”
The Literacy Trust study also reported numerous benefits for the dads who read aloud at night – including greater skill acquisition, greater confidence and self-esteem, a better father-child relationship, and increased engagement with learning.
Reading relaxes father as well as son Credit: Alamy
Rob Kemp is author of The New Dad’s Survival Guide
When fathers are involved in kids’ lives — their day-to-day activities and routines — it’s long been proven that kids are more social, perform better in school, and have fewer behavioral problems. But researchers found another surprising upside to having a hands-on dad: Kids benefit more when fathers read bedtime stories than when their mothers do it.
In a study of 500 low-income fathers in the U.S., they found that when fathers read to their young children, there was an impact on their language development one year later and their literacy two years later. Even more surprising? Mothers’ reading did not have this significant impact on development.
It’s not that kids prefer their stories in a lower voice. The difference between Mom and Dad’s reading was simple: Fathers used more abstract and complex language, lead researcher Elisabeth Duursma wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald.
“When sharing a book with their child, they would often link events in the book to a child’s own experience. For example, when a ladder was discussed in the book, many fathers mentioned the last time they had used a ladder to climb up on the roof or use it for their work,” wrote Dursman, a senior lecturer in early childhood literacy at the University of Wollongong. “Mothers focused more on the details in the book and often asked children to label or count objects or identify colors.” But the abstract thinking is better for kids’ brains because it’s more challenging, she adds.
And sharing a book doesn’t just give children’s language skills, literacy, and brain development a boost, the study notes. It also strengthens relationships — as fathers engage their kids, spend time with them, and share memories.
“The impact is huge, particularly if dads start reading to kids under the age of two,” Duursma said. “Reading is seen as a female activity and kids seem to be more tuned in when their dad reads to them – it’s special.”
[via The Sydney Morning Herald
Asher Fogle Writer When she’s not hunting for compelling personal stories or justifying her love for dessert, Asher can likely be found watching early-2000s TV on Netflix with her husband.
A Father’s Role(s) in Reading
In honor of Father’s Day, we’re posting today about the many ways that fathers can contribute to their children’s reading development. While we have all heard how important it is for parents to read to young children, too often we assume that those “parents” are mostly mothers. And indeed, research shows that mothers do read to their children more often than fathers. But research also tells us that fathers have at least three vital roles to play in their children’s literacy development.
When fathers read to young children, they tend to interact differently than mothers do. Studies by Duursma and others have found that while mothers tend to focus more narrowly on the content of the book they are reading, fathers’ reading time conversations with children are more wide-ranging and often bring in topics from outside contexts. Similarly, mothers tend to ask children convergent questions about the facts or events in the book they are reading, but fathers pose more abstract questions that challenge children to use their imaginations or connect what they are reading to outside experiences. As a result, while time read to by mothers was correlated with traditional emergent reading behaviors by children, it was time read to by fathers that predicted better language development, which is the foundation of reading comprehension. Interestingly, girls’ language development benefited even more than boys’ from having their fathers read to them regularly.
Fathers serve as important reading models, especially for boys. When the only people they ever see reading are their mothers and their (usually) female elementary school teachers, boys often begin to see reading as an essentially feminine activity, something “guys” don’t do. Watching their fathers read can prevent the development of this detrimental belief; in fact, research done recently in Italy found that children tend to imitate their parents’ reading activities even more closely than we would have guessed. Fathers can also be helpful in broadening children’s conceptions of reading. While men are less likely than women to be traditional fiction book readers, fathers can help show children that reading newspapers, reading instructions, reading for information, and even reading sports reports are all legitimate, useful, and rewarding types of reading.
As children get older, a father’s influence on reading can still be strong. Fathers who recommend and discuss books with their teenagers have a positive impact on whether and what they read. In fact, studies show that adolescents who read are often motivated to read books their parents are reading or had read in their youth. Fathers can also make sure books and other reading materials remain readily available to their children by going with them to the library and buying books or subscriptions for gifts—or by giving them a gift card to the local bookstore, and then taking them on a Saturday morning expedition, so they can pick out just what they’d like! Real readers love to talk about what they are reading, and fathers can be great listeners and contributors to these conversations; we know that teenage boys who like to read especially value increased sharing and discussion of multiple sorts of reading materials, including informational and Internet-based reading, with their fathers as they get older.
Such reading-centered interactions can benefit fathers just as much as their children. Fathers say that reading to their children at bedtime helps them feel emotionally and physically closer to their kids, especially if they have to be away all day at work. When their sons are older, some fathers report that typically “masculine” reading activities, like looking up sports statistics, offer important opportunities to share time and interests with their sons. Even fathers who initially lack skill or confidence in reading have been shown to gain both through reading with their children.
So this Father’s Day, encourage the fathers you know to spend some time reading to or with their children. If you are a father yourself, know that interacting together around reading—whether it is a repair manual, an online site about some shared interest, or a favorite book from your own childhood—is a win/win situation for you and your kids.
And have a Happy Father’s Day!
For fathers (or others ) who want to know more:
- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has put out a great research brief on the benefits of fathers reading to their children, with a lot of embedded resources that focus mainly on reading and doing other literacy activities with younger children.
- Jon Scieszka’s Guys Read site has lots of information specifically on boys and reading and suggestions for things fathers might enjoy reading with somewhat older sons.
- For those who want to dig deeper, Christina Clark wrote a report for the National Literacy Trust summarizing the research up to 2003 that supports all these benefits, which is available free through ERIC.